By Yambem Laba
In 1976, when Nameirakpam Bisheswar and 18 other youths took the long route to Lhasa via Gorakhpur on the Indo-Nepalese border and then to Mustang on the Sino-Nepalese border and received training in ideology as well as guerrilla warfare from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and returned home to Manipur two years later as the PLA’s Eastern Region, they unleashed India’s first and Asia’s second spell of urban insurgency after Saigon, 10 years earlier. They also set a prairie fire of sorts in the otherwise once placid emerald Imphal valley.
But the seeds of the revolutionary movement were sown at least a decade and a half earlier when Arambam Samarendra, who had just completed his Master’s in political science from Pune University, returned home in 1963. On 26 November 1964 he founded the United National Liberation Front with the avowed aim of liberating Manipur and began questioning the deceitful manner in which India merged Manipur with the Union in 1949. Aware of the various ethnic groups that had stakes in Manipur, Samarendra ensured that the first chairman of the front was a Kuki and the vice-chairman a Naga, with himself as general secretary.
The UNLF held its fire for a long time and it was only in the early 1990s that it went to “war”, its magnum opus being an ambush not carried out in the valley but in the hills near Lamdan in Churachandpur district. The prairie fire started by the PLA gave way to the birth of various other armed groups such as the People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (Prepak), the Kangleipak Communist Party and the Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup.
All these groups carried out operations against the Army, paramilitary forces and sometimes the police, independent of each other and often — since their source of revenue to sustain their movements was the same turf — they would occasionally act at cross purposes. The weapons also changed over time from sawn off .303 bolt action rifles used as a handgun with devastating effect to the latest AK series and from rifle-launched grenades to rocket-propelled ones.
The general public viewed the various groups as one entity but divided and public pressure gradually began to mount, calling for a united front of the various revolutionary groups. And since the people are supposed to be the water in which the revolutionaries have to survive as fishes, it began to have a telling effect and, thus, at the turn of the millennium the first visible result towards that end was seen with the formation of the Manipur People’s Liberation Front.
This front, however, did not survive long because differences over revenue collection are believed to have caused fissures within it. Elsewhere outside the state, the Indo-Burma Revolutionary Front came into being — the brainchild of former UNLF chairman RK Meghen, aka Sanayaima, who is a graduate of International Relations from Jadavpur University in Kolkata. He is now in National Investigation Agency custody in Guwahati, having been arrested in Dhaka in 2011. In April last year came the formation of the United National Liberation Front of Western South East Asia under the leadership of NSCN (K) stalwart SS Khaplang, brining all the active insurgent groups operating in the region under one common platform.
Back on 5 October 2012, the Coordination Committee was formed as a conglomeration of proscribed underground groups of Manipur comprising the RPF, PLA, UNLF, KCP, KYKL and two factions of the Prepak. On its third anniversary last year, it greeted the people of Manipur with a revolutionary salute to its cadres who had laid down their lives fighting for the state in the revolutionary movement. A statement signed by group convener Khundongbam Pamei said the heart of the revolutionary movement in Manipur was CorCom, which would in due course become the “sole representative” of the Manipuri people and had been necessitated by the people’s voice that had demanded a united struggle against Indian colonialism. The statement added that it also hinged on the idea of building a united strength of all communities in Manipur and the Western South East Asia region and that its historic formation was a commendable step in the revolutionary movement as a result of learning together from past and present mistakes to build a stronger foundation.
Its first task, the statement said, was to drive away Indian occupation forces through the joint effort of revolutionary groups and build unity among the people of Manipur. Second, it was to wage a joint war against India with like-minded groups of the Western South East Asia region. This had been practiced in other parts of the world to wage war jointly among like-minded groups in world revolutionary history, it added.
Three years after its formation, various sub-committees have been set up, namely Home Committees, Regional Affairs Committees, an External Affairs Committee, a Publicity Committee, Base Area Committee, Financial Affairs Committee and Joint Fighting Force, which function under the Joint Military Commission, the statement maintained. Pamei is otherwise the current chairman of the UNLF, having taken over following the arrest of its charismatic chairman, RK Meghen, in Dhaka in 2011.
True to its announced stance for a united effort, it carried out a devastating ambush on 22 May 2016 on a column belonging to the Zoupi Post of the 29-Assam Rifles in Manipur’s Chandel district on the Indo-Myanmarese border, killing a Junior Commissioned Officer and five jawans and decamping with one Light Machine Gun, five AK-series rifles and a huge amount of ammunition. It was a surgical strike with zero collateral damage and no loss of life on its side, although the Assam Rifles’ troops were said to have returned fire. Soon enough the CorCom strike force melted away in the jungles and safely reached their base camp across the border.
The retaliation by the Assam Rifles — even as Chief of Army Staff General Dalbir Singh Suhag made an aerial survey of the ambush site and the top brass cried hoarse of hitting back hard — seems to be in the form of a plant in the social media on Facebook and Whatsapp. The message I also saw on my Facebook page briefly talked about a heliborne move comprising men and officers of the 15-Assam Rifles counter-attacking deep inside Myanmarese territory and destroying a CorCom camp, killing eight of its cadres and capturing nearly two dozen who have since been handed over to the Myanmarese authorities. It also added that no pictures were being posted as it required clearance from the top brass. But what has irked the Union home ministry authorities was the fact that the social media counter-attack had used the name of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, making it appear that it had the go-ahead from India’s highest possible political leadership.
A source closed to the CorCom informed me that there was no need for a denial and added that “let us sit back and watch the fun as the IB/RAW/ Defence authorities slug it out with the Facebook warriors of the Assam Rifles”.
All said and done, there is no denying the fact that the CorCom has proven beyond doubt that it exists not only on paper but also in the battlefields.
The writer is The Statesman’s Imphal-based Special Correspondent. This article was reproduced by arrangement with the writer.